SOA Watch: Is Your Enterprise Architecture Healthy?

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Working directly on SOA projects, as an independent, I'm exposed to many more organizations than when I was building technology. As such, I see some common patterns or issues emerging.

The largest and most disturbing issue is the fact that there seems to be a huge chasm between the traditional enterprise architecture crowd and those looking at the value of SOA. Indeed, enterprise architecture, as a notion, has morphed from an approach for the betterment of corporate IT to a management practice, at least for some. Thus, the person that needs to understand and implement the value of SOA is sometimes not the current enterprise architect in charge.

The core issue is an add-not-change approach to architecture. While adding applications, directories, and databases to an existing architecture is easy and risk-adverse, changing architectures around systemic notions such as SOA is hard and does come with some risk. Thus, many are choosing to ignore it. In many instances it's the culture, with some organizations promoting a "you fail, you're fired" approach, versus a "let's try new things and seek improvement."

Another issue is that it's easier to stay high level than do actual work. Drawing diagrams, doing presentations, and writing reports is much easier than actually going out and making real changes with real benefits. Again, from above, that carries with it the notion of risk. Implementing SOA takes a lot of up-front work, as well as many changes. However, in many cases, the benefits outweigh the risks by a large margin.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself, to determine the state of your architectural standing.

1. Has someone compared the current architecture with best practices in your industry, looking to spot issues that need correction, such as the architectures inability to align and keep up with the business?2. Has someone done an ROI analysis of the value of SOA, or other approaches for that matter, for the current architecture and reported it to management?3. Do you have a complete service-, semantic-, and process-level understanding of your enterprise?4. Do you have a common abstract model for key elements, such as customers, sales, inventory, transactions, etc.?5. Are systems well integrated and do they communicate in real time where needed?6. Can you change your architecture to accommodate business changes at the speed required by management and the marketplace?

Basically, if you answered no to any of the above, it's perhaps time to look for some new ideas.  In many modern global 2000 companies, the enterprise architectures are badly broken and hinder the business’s ability to change. For instance, a recent survey by the Business Performance Management Institute found that only 11 percent of executives say they're able to keep up with business demand to change technology-enabled processes. 40 percent of which, according to the survey, are currently in need of IT attention. Worse, 36 percent report that their company's IT departments are having either "significant difficulties" (27 percent) or "can't keep up at all" (9 percent).

The reality is that IT has done a poor job of supporting the business when considering the amount of latency apparent when change needs to occur. CEOs pull their hair out when their IT group talks about years not months to add product lines, change markets, or merge with other companies. Indeed, in many companies, the IT shop is the single most limiting factor for business success, and can kill the business if left to continue as-is.

As I stated above, for some reason, the discipline of enterprise architecture has morphed into more of a management practice, and the fundamental flaws within many enterprise architectures are not being addressed. SOA is one approach, but in some instances SOA is not indicated; thus why I asked for an ROI study as part of the "test." However, there is always a need for good enterprise architecture.

I'm sure many enterprise architects will indeed pass, and do have most of what was mentioned on the "test" understood. Or, at least have plans in place to get there ASAP. This goes to a holistic desire to align your IT with your business. Most are out of alignment right now.

David Linthicum (Dave) is an internationally known application integration and service oriented architecture expert. In his career Dave has formed many of the ideas behind modern distributed computing including EAI (enterprise application integration), B2B application integration, and service oriented architecture (SOA), approaches and technologies in wide use today.

Currently, Dave is the CEO of the Linthicum Group, LLC, a consulting organization dedicated to excellence in SOA product development, SOA implementation, and corporate SOA strategy. Dave is formerly the CEO of BRIDGEWERX, and is also the former CTO of Mercator Software and has held key technology management roles with a number of organizations including CTO of SAGA Software, Mobil Oil, EDS, AT&T, and Ernst and Young.

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